When the first two episodes of Joker Game aired, I was instantly hooked by this series. It was different from so many of the other anime around and that I had watched. No teenagers or highschools or magical powers. Just a look at a spy agency in Japan in WW2. Potential dark subject matter but at least something different. And while ultimately it didn’t quite live up to the early expectations it seemed to set for the audience, it wasn’t terrible.
Joker Game – Strong Opening Act
And the opening narrative arc is very strong. We meet the spies and we also meet Sakuma who is in the Japanese military and is meant to Liaise or something with D-Agency. I only know his name because I looked it up. He is perhaps the most interesting character we meet for the entire series. His outsider view of the agency, and his changing reactions from frustration with their methods to grudging admiration, as well as his adaptability made him likeable and engaging as a lead character.
Then we never see him again.
Or maybe we do but you don’t notice. I don’t know. By episode 4 I gave up trying to distinguish the characters as they did pretty much nothing to distinguish themselves.
And we never get back to the whole card thing which kind of bugged me because I really wanted this to become a recurring theme in the show as it was a little bit interesting and they could have done something with it.
After the first two episodes, all the other episodes (with one exception) are a self-contained story. A situation is set up and a bunch of conspiracy stuff happens before the spy of the week reveals his clever ploy to outsmart the others. Over and over again. With indistinguishable spies that we don’t remember anything about or care about on missions that are never explained or given any significance.
I will say this: Individual episodes of this show are entertaining to a degree. A single story about a spy outsmarting an enemy. While we might want a little more explanation or details about the spy, as a stand alone story it works well.
What didn’t work was week after week of more of the same and no reason to feel any more investment in either the plot or the characters. I do like episodic anime but they always work better when there is either a central character who we build a deeper connection with as the story goes or if there is a common story growing in the background. Here, it just never really held itself together in any meaningful way.
Moving away from that, the music is actually quite pleasant. I remember earlier in the season another blogger (and I don’t remember who) compared the soundtrack to Baccano and that’s fairly apt, though Joker Game is a far more subdued fair even in its music.
The colour palette is also quite subdued. It isn’t washed out or anything like that but there’s definitely a lot of blues, greys, blacks and browns in this anime only broken by the occasional object of significance that might get a slightly brighter hue (flower, ring, whatever).
If you didn’t watch this anime, it would be worth watching an episode of it, but I’m not going to recommend the series as a whole.
You could stop reading here if you want. I’m just going to make one further point about the final episode.
I really do try to avoid feeling insulted about the role of women in anime, given it is pointless to take offense over every slight or perceived slight, but this one kind of made me think ‘was that really necessary?’
Why did Yuuki feel the need to articulate why only men were spies in the agency?
Anyone watching this show already figured out that women only had three roles in this show. Damsel in distress, oblivious support, or overly emotional killer of the week who of course was stuffing up the plans of the men. And given the era the show is set in and the greater focus on the espionage, even if this seemed a little trite we could just watch the show and ignore the fact that not one female character was given a decent character role.
And then they felt the need to have a main character, and one of the only characters people remember, state clearly that women were less rational than men. That they could not control their emotions to respond appropriately to situations.
I had to wonder what Joker Game was doing. After initially drawing me into this world and then kind of holding me in a pattern of unrequited anticipation for 12 episodes it then felt the need to make me dislike the only character I could remember the name of without searching for it. You know, it does reflect attitudes of the era and all but it was kind of obvious that these men didn’t hold women in high regard without straight up saying it.
Be that as it may, Joker Game is a drama type thing about spies in WW2. There are some clever moments and then there are some slow moments. Occasionally there are some surprises and shocks. But mostly, what it delivers is a fairly clear story 10 times over in different settings.
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7 thoughts on “Joker Game Series Review – Promising But Doesn’t Quite Deliver”
It could be said that they were just being historically accurate. Japan of the time didn’t have a lot of respect for women. In some ways it still doesn’t.
I get the history but not sure why they didn’t just let the character’s actions speak for him. It was the fact that they felt the need to spell it out that bothered me.
Well said. I actually like the theme and structure of this series, but many episodes just felt weak and cliched, and the way they constantly portray the D-Agency men as smug-ass condescending super-spies who are always about everything tend to rub me wrong (*even if I agree with a lot of their principles).
There is definitely a lot of smugness in this series. Possibly the only defining character trait.
Maybe the role of women was limited during WW2? I’m no expert on this topic because I never learnt it in detail, just a guess. And honestly, why did they have to introduce Sakuma when they just take him out of the picture later? He’s the only character I know something about other than Yuuki. And the Joker Game. What was that even? The only thing I loved about this anime is the soundtrack! It’s one thing the creators hit the nail on!
The soundtrack was pretty well done.